Online Edition: November 2007     Vol. XXI, No. 3

sponsored by Peace Life Center, Public invited

  • MODESTO PEACE LIFE CENTER VIGILS: Monthly peace vigils are held THE FIRST FRIDAY of the month at McHenry Ave. and J St., (Five points), 5:00-6:00 pm (NOTE TIME CHANGE). call the Center for info: 529-5750.

  • Click here for peace action schedule around the area.

  • PEACE LIFE CENTER WILL BE OPEN WEDNESDAYS, Noon to 3 pm. Come by for coffee or tea and just to chat or look at our book and magazine collection. Bring your own bag lunch; there may be films some days. 720 13th St. Call us 529-5750, we'll get back to you with info on vigils and other activities.

Click Here to download the 2008 Peace Essay Flyer

Connections needs help!

Stanislaus Connections, the peace and justice newspaper of the Modesto Peace Life Center, needs volunteers able to help edit, write, or help put up the paper each month. We meet two times per month. If you are interested in helping with our progressive paper, contact us.

Email Jim Costello, or call 537-7818. Or call Myrtle Osner, 522-4967,

The Modesto Peace Life Center
invites you to

A Harvest Gathering

A benefit for
the Peace Essay Contest

Friday, November 2, 2007, 7:00 p.m.
the home of
Nancy Smith and David Rockwell
520 Helen Ave., Modesto

Delicious Desserts, Good Wines
Special Coffees and Teas

Suggested Donation: $10 per person
Casual attire

Join with people of peace to help us continue our outreach to our community’s youth
by supporting one of our most important yearly events, the Peace Essay Contest.

We look forward to seeing you and your friends


Peace & Justice

Around the Center: 

Living Lightly

Recipes from Connections

A Gathering of Voices--John Morearty

Out and About


Masthead and Back Issues

Opinion and Letters to Connections

Interesting Web sites

New this month:

Make a difference at the Alternative Faire


The 17th Annual Alternative Faire is scheduled for Sunday, November 25, at the Modesto Church of the Brethren, 2301 Woodland Ave., from noon to 2:00 p.m. All are welcome to make donations in the name of family/loved ones and to purchase gifts from agencies that reach out to help people in difficult circumstances.

Come find out about and make contributions to or purchase gifts at:

ACTION:Bring friends and be generous to people in need.

All money goes to the designated agencies except cost of food for lunch and Black Cows. The church keeps nothing. Contact Mary Baucher, 523-5178, for information.

Holiday Party to merge with Song Circle, Dec. 14

Good food, good people, and good singing make for a memorable respite amid holiday busyness and pressures. If you’re up for that, or nowadays “down” for it, then don’t miss the festive “Sing Your Heart Out!” Holiday Party at the home of Alice and Dan Onorato, 1532 Vernon Ave. in Modesto on Friday, December 14, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Yes, it’s a potluck, so bring one of your favorite dishes and a beverage to share. Breathe deep the dining room’s tempting aromas. Envision the alluring potluck delights. Fancy the artistic presentazione. Then indulge.

Rousing spirits into merriment, the Song Circle guru, Ken Schroeder, will pass out song books, piano and guitars will attune, and the party will break out in song—traditional holiday tunes, folk melodies, children’s favorites, and movement standouts from the Labor, Civil Rights, and Peace Movements. Songs old and new, in English, Spanish, Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic, from all traditions and tastes. You name it, we sing it!

You down? See you Friday, December 14.

ACTION: Start planning your dish to share and the songs you’d like to sing. Each morning gurgle three times, to get your voice in singing sweet shape. Info., call 526-5436.

Thirteenth Annual Inter-Religious Community Thanksgiving Celebration

The Thirteenth Annual Inter-Religious Community Thanksgiving Celebration featuring singing, readings and other spiritual offerings of thankfulness from a varied representation of Modesto’s faith traditions, will be held on Monday, November 19, at 7:00 p.m. beginning with “gathering music” followed by the celebration at 7:15 p.m. at the Modesto Church of the Brethren, 2301 Woodland Ave. in Modesto.

The event, sponsored by InnerFaith Resources, is expected to last until 8:30 p.m. with time for refreshments and conversation afterward. Call 577-0864 to learn more about participation in the celebration.

Open auditions for local film production


Realta Oscuro Films will hold open auditions for their upcoming project, Erebus, at the Stanislaus County Library, Modesto Branch 1515 I St., November 10, 2007, 11a.m. to 4 p.m.

Erebus is a story about Orpheus, a young man trying to cope with the tragic loss of his beautiful fiancé Eurydice and his all-consuming desperation and pain. Erebus starts production in January.

Actors and actresses between the ages of 18 and 32 who have a serious desire to make their mark as well as being a part of an up and coming film company, should bring head shots and a monologue to perform for no longer than three minutes.

Realta Oscuro Films wants to tap the creative resource of the Central Valley to create thought-provoking artistic films, using classic as well as contemporary methods for achieving an effective audience impact. Through visual imagery, sound and written content, we aim to produce a grounded statement which makes for unique cinema in an otherwise mundane industry.

For more information, please contact Micah Maté Silva, (209) 577-5836 or Francisco Garay, (209) 505-8575.

Call for submissions to Penumbra

Penumbra, the Art & Literary Annual of CSU Stanislaus, (Poetry, Short Fiction, Artwork, Photography) seeks submission for its 18th edition. Deadline is Tuesday, February 26, 2008.

Submit one copy of artwork/photography (11” x 17” max or slides). Submit two hard copies of written work with name, address, phone number and e-mail address on one copy only, AND a CD containing each manuscript as a separate file saved in Rich Text Format (rtf). Include a brief biography (3 lines max). Written work and CD will not be returned.

Mail up to five submissions to Rofiah Breen, English Dept-CSU Stanislaus, Turlock, CA 95382, 209-667-3673.

The local ACLU needs you


Four members of the Stanislaus County American Civil Liberties Union unit attended a Santa Cruz chapter leaders’ retreat in mid-October, recharging their batteries with a glimpse at how civil liberties fare elsewhere.

As “Patriot Act” guardians keep tabs on what you read, and libraries/booksellers may not even tell you your privacy has been compromised, we think we’ve won an occasional skirmish in Stanislaus County without a shot being fired.

In a town south of Modesto, cops spread-eagle kids on sidewalks on suspicion of Walking While Hispanic a bit less than they used to, even if they still bust parties. The ACLU had made a noise...

A bit further south, schools fingerprinted second-graders. ACLU attorney Nicole Ozer spoke in Modesto about it publicly in September after one board member wrote a letter, and suddenly the practice was discontinued.

With virtually no publicity, ACLU staff lawyers quietly settled a complaint of punitive suspensions applied inequitably in Modesto schools.

Stanislaus County supervisors deemed a program on belly-dancers a bit racy for library patrons. Civil libertarians passed petitions with the mantra “it’s not about belly dancing, it’s about free speech,” and the censorship threats eased.

Santa Cruz left me exhausted but happy. My fellow board members were as enthused as I was overwhelmed.

I was floored by eleven lawyers on the ACLU staff in San Francisco. We have one part-time poverty lawyer willing to help in a pinch.

Modesto-sized Santa Rosa boasts 3,800 members. We know of 13 on our board. We have one part-time “volunteer.” Beyond that, we’re not sure who even belongs. Technically, anyone who ever sent the ACLU money.

I eye my sketchy notes. We spoke of diversity, of youth. Introducing Ms. Ozer, I commented that we are too old, too white and too educated. But no one at that Modesto Junior College meeting volunteered to serve.

The ACLU may be the only organization left working for all aspects of civil liberties. Americans United tries to keep a wall between church and state. NAACP and Hispanic groups serve their constituents well. But for a broad base, we’re alone.

The ACLU has an awe-inspiring record. Launched to fight the roundup of World War 1 protesters, we backed John Scopes’ right to teach evolution in Tennessee. ACLU came west to protect dock workers organizing in San Francisco, stayed to fight internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry in WW2.

“Card-carrying member of the ACLU” once was a pejorative hurled by neo-cons and Rush Limbaugh. Today it’s as proud a label as exists. Our clients transcend the spectrum from peaceniks and social justice backers to even Klan, Nazis, gun nuts and Limbaughs. Our real client is the Bill of Rights.

The Stanislaus chapter will soon mount a membership drive. You WILL be contacted. We can have three thousand too. We want board people for monthly or less meetings, but first we want members. It’s only $20 a year, $5 for students, and if that’s too much, something can be worked out.

ACTION: Email or call 522-1571, if only to say you belong. The board meets at the Peace/Life Center at 7 p.m. on third Tuesdays, but call to ask. The rights you save will most surely be your own.

Holiday giving can be satisfying experience


As much as some of us decry the intense commercialization of the holiday season, there is an alternative.

For many years, my children and grandchildren have found another way to give. Instead of things, each one chooses a cause in which they believe, perhaps one they have learned about over the years in our family. Their gift to that cause is given in honor of me as well as a personal gift from that child or grandchild. Lovely gift cards are available from some of the agencies for these causes.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Modesto Church of the Brethren will hold an “Alternative Gift Faire” (see article, this page.)

In addition to attending the Faire, you might want to choose some of the agencies listed below. Choosing where you give your money for the holidays should start soon, if you expect to get a holiday card that is appropriate to the gift. 

Here are some of the worthy causes you might consider:

If the environment is your cause, there’s the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy (national), Planning and Conservation League (California), the Union of Concerned Scientists, or the National Parks Conservation Association.

We certainly have no shortage of local organizations needing help. For instance: Haven Women’s Center, the Library Foundation, the PRIDE Center, the Center for Human Services, the Great Valley Museum, and Interfaith Ministries (food bank and clothes closet).

Imagine Peace …


I was reminded lately that it was twenty-seven years ago that John Lennon, the author and singer of Imagine, was shot down in New York City. He was only forty years old.

I discovered a web site named where one can see a video of the ceremony of the dedication of the new Imagine Peace Tower. The Peace Tower, conceived by John Lennon and Yoko Ono forty years ago, was built on a small island near Reykjavik, the capitol of Iceland. When illuminated at night, it sends a bright shaft of light up vertically through the clouds and beyond.

It makes one think to see it.

At the dedication, Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, and Ringo Starr were joined by the mayor of Reykjavik. One could hardly think of how John would have loved to be there. Let’s remember the lyrics of his song, Imagine.

Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try
No hell below us, above us only sky….
Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too…
You may say I’m just a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one…
Imagine no possession, I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood on man
Imagine all the people, sharing all the world…

There will be another worldwide celebration soon to imagine peace. Wouldn’t you like to be there?

Check out Imagine Peace at To listen to John’s song, visit

Family Visits


According to Title 15, the California Code of Regulations for Crime Prevention and Corrections; “Institution heads shall maintain family visiting policies and procedures. Family visits are extended overnight visits, provided for eligible inmates and their immediate family members, commensurate with institution security, space availability, and pursuant to these regulations.”

The key word is eligibility. Family visits used to be available to most prisoners in California Institute for Women (C.I.W.) when it was the only women’s prison in the state. It was in place at Central California Women’s Prison (C.C.W.F.) until October, 1996 but were then outlawed by the state Assembly for: those with life without parole (LWOP) sentences, lifers, Close A and Close B Custody levels which can go on for years and totals 375 women at C.C.W.F. alone, and those in Administrative Segregation (prison jail) or those guilty of various in-prison offenses.

J.S., a lifer going on 24 years in custody, entered prison at C.I.W. in 1982. She was 23 years old and she was told at the time she’d surely be released by age 36. She’s 47 now. J.S. has two sons. Her boys were 2 and 4 years old when she was imprisoned. J.S. says, “My husband considered family the number one thing.” The boys knew they would see mom at least once a month for a visit. They could count on that. She says she raised her kids in prison in family visiting.

The physical set-up for family visiting at C.I.W. included a trailer, three connected apartments and a duplex. There were two barbecue pits, picnic tables and a playground all situated in an open, shared grass yard. Children and adults freely mingled. The kids played together and, if one of them had a birthday party, there were festive hats, party favors and cake for all. There was a “camera girl” attached to C.I.W.’s canteen who took many family photos. Visits lasted for three days once a month rather than the two-day visits now in effect.

J.S. says, “The first thing we did was put away the food.” In those earlier days, families brought in groceries from the outside and Match Light charcoal for a barbecue. After that, “each one of us would get a cool drink. We would all sit down at the table and have a family discussion to catch up. Each person could bring up any issue and we’d have it out there, good or bad. We couldn’t leave that table until a compromise on each person’s issue had been reached.”

Remembering the past, J.S. reminisces, “When I came to prison, I’d never heard the word ‘heroin.’ I came in young. My probation report described me as ‘21 going on 15.’ I was taken in by the older ladies. They took me under their wings. They showed me how to be a lady and helped me grow up. Then you could get boxes from home with dresses, high heels, perfume, you know—girlie stuff. You could dress up and look like a woman.”

J.S. arrived at C.C.W.F. on October 1, 1990, one of the first group of volunteers who came north from C.I.W. to prepare the prison for opening. It was a gift to her family. They lived in Merced and Fresno so seeing her at C.C.W.F. would eliminate major travel time and expenses. As she saw it, “It was giving back to them.” If someone canceled, J.S. could call her nearby family and often they could come. Sometimes she got two visits a month.

“At C.C.W.F., in the 1990’s, they started taking the girlie stuff. The hair dye went because they said we’d disguise ourselves and escape but we still kept our personal clothes. Since 2004, we can’t even get personal boxes from our families. Now it’s all vendors, all gray and white, no colors allowed. We look grungey, the violence level went up. Now we’re drab, sad, and unemotional-looking.”

In 1995, the prison began, one by one, to convert the visiting apartments to offices. “When they took the first apartment, we knew it was only a matter of time before they’d take our family visits away.”

In the late 1980’s, there was a flurry of publicity at C.I.W. around family visiting. It involved Kathy Smith, imprisoned for giving John Belushi the lethal injection that killed him, and Susan Atkins, one of the Manson women. Smith, in interviews glamorized prison and Atkins and revealed that Atkins and her husband, James, were trying to have a baby. Doris Tate, mother of one of Atkin’s victims, and the Victim’s Services group became incensed. Family visits became their issue and they started a campaign to take them away from ALL prisoners. Prisoners reached out for help and state senator, Richard Polanco, helped halt the campaign for a number of years.

But by 1996, with the public political mood shifting toward pure punishment, an anti-visiting bill was put forward at the state level. It focused on lifers, those convicted of violent crimes and those who picked up a drug case inside prison. Family visits were outlawed for a large group of inmates.

In 1996, a week before her last family visit, J.S.’s husband died. During that visit, her son told her, “Last night I was going to run away or slit my wrists, but I knew I had this visit with you, so I came.”

“Now everything is gone. No visits, No family boxes. It’s all punishment. The guards are lazy. They don’t want to keep an eye on things. They lump us all into one mess and categorize everyone as the same. They make everyone look like a man, a man and hard, so they can treat us hard.”

In 2005, the Criminal Justice Institute did a cultural assessment of the C.C.W.F. work and social milieus. Interviewers questioned many staff members, both custody and non-custody, and several inmates. Many guards referred to C.C.W.F. as: “. . . the best-kept secret in the state. The lack of violent behavior . . . has resulted in staff becoming more accustomed to a ‘relaxed’ correction environment. Consequently, boredom and complacency have emerged and contribute to the culture at C.C.W.F. . . . Not being threatened or having to ‘watch their backs’ on a daily basis, results in staff from all levels making small issues into something larger.”

J.S. says, “There are drugs in here but they don’t come through Receiving and Release (R&R) because all merchandise is ordered from vendors. The vendor prices are high, sometimes 100% or more costly than the same item on the street. All the boxes and books that move through R&R are unpacked by a guard and written on an inventory. It would be impossible to get more than a tiny amount through day visiting.

When asked how drugs get in, J.S. pauses then replies, “My belief . . . I think the institution allows so much in. There’s too much observation; guards, cameras, binoculars and searches. I say, check the staff as they come into work.”

J.S.’s recent Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) appointment was July 14, 2006. she says, “I expect no change. It’s like being on trial again. At every BPH session, one is forced to relive the events of one’s crime many years before. The commissioners want all the little details. They want you to remember every minute of a report that’s a quarter century old. They look at co-defendants statements from their hearings and order you to respond. I don’t know what my co-defendants said.”

“I’m different now. There’s no regard for maturity. For women who kill, the majority are abused terribly in their early lives. I was molested since I was six. It’s my first real memory.”

“I don’t even tell my family anymore. Knowing I’m going to a BPH hearing gives them hope and there’s no hope. My family writes to the BPH and begs for my parole. It’s too painful.”

“The BPH always denies me. They want us to pay again and again . . . lawyers, courts, fees, all of it. If you can’t, oh, well. Stay in prison. “

“After the family visits were eliminated for lifers, my husband was dead, so It was harder for my family to get my kids here. My oldest son lives in Oregon. My youngest son lives in Fresno and he brings his daughter, my little granddaughter, to see me. My son says, “Mom, if the family visits are restored, write or call immediately. We’ll come.”

One can still get family visits every six weeks but it’s mostly only short-termers who can take advantage of it. The inmate and visitors must buy food from the prison’s canteen list except for a few extra items. For those who qualify, the visits make prison bearable.

For the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to be more than Orwellian-speak, it must enact a program of true rehabilitation where more of the CDCR budget is spent on programs than staff salaries. It must do all it can to reconnect prisoners with the larger society and help them find their places in it. This can be done through better educational, job training, and mental health programs than the ones that currently exist. Family restoration should be a top priority and family visits are a crucial element for such a goal. [Lower custody levels (Close A and Close B) that only exist to enhance the number of staff positions and further segregate inmates within the prison.] give us back our quarterly boxes that our families and/or friends purchase which sustain an important “link of love” and are much cheaper than vendor boxes for our families to assemble. Let us look like women again in all our individual permutations.

Note: the Criminal Justice Institute used CAP (the Institutional Culture assessment Protocol), “a standardized process and instrumentation designed specifically for use in assessing a prison’s culture”, to describe the C.C.W.F. work and living environments from June 6, 2005 through June 14, 2005. Its report was published January 5, 2006 by the Criminal Justice Institute, Inc., Middleton, CT, (860) 704-6400.


Tenth of each month. Submit peace, justice and environmentally friendly event notices to P.O. Box 134, Modesto, CA, 95353, or call 522-4967 or 575-4299, or email to Jim Costello. Free listings subject to space, availability and editing.